As the extent of the damage from Cyclones Judy and Kevin become clearer, the aid agency CARE is delivering much-needed supplies to cyclone battered communities in Vanuatu, with a particular focus on women and girls.
The twin cyclones left an estimated 150,000 people – almost half the population – in need of humanitarian assistance, with the government declaring a six month state of emergency.
Country Director of CARE in Vanuatu, Bridgette Thorold, said people’s needs were wide ranging.
“Many people have lost the roofs over their heads, the crops they rely on to survive, and almost all their belongings,” Ms Thorold said.
“We know from the past that women’s and girls’ experiences in the aftermath of a natural disaster are different to mens’ and boys’. Staying in makeshift or temporary accommodation, women and girls are at higher risk of sexual violence or harassment. They also have additional health and hygiene needs resulting from pregnancy, breastfeeding and managing periods.
“That’s why, in addition to distributing tarps and ropes and other things that people can use to secure their homes from the elements, we’re also distributing things like reusable sanitary pads, underwear, torches and whistles.”
The “dignity kits”, which also include toothbrushes, toothpaste, towels and clothes, have been provided with funding from the Australian Government.
CARE, which has worked in Vanuatu since 2008, ensures the needs of women, girls, people with disabilities and other marginalised groups are heard and met in emergency responses.
The aid agency began distributions last week in evacuation centres on the island of Efate, home to the capital, Port Vila. With communications and transport systems becoming more reliable, CARE teams have this week begun making their way to outer islands with support from the Australian Defence Force.
Ms Thorold said many of the families CARE’s teams met with were women-headed households.
“Many ni-Vanuatu men travel to Australia or New Zealand to do seasonal agricultural work, which means you have a lot of households in Vanuatu where it’s just mum or grandma or aunty looking after everyone.”
“For a lot of ni-Vanuatu women, their main source of income is their food garden – growing things to sell. The cyclones have completely wiped many of these out, so women’s financial security going forward is going to be a real concern.
“Helping women and their communities to make an income again and have enough food to eat will likely be a big focus for us in the months to come.”
CARE is working in cooperation with Vanuatu Government authorities and other aid agencies, which are collectively working to provide shelter, clean water, food, medical supplies, solar power kits and sanitation and hygiene facilities.